In School in Germany: The Black Box

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The Black Box– a secret device hid inside an aircraft to record the flight from start to finish. The box is used to determine how the flight went, but also in worst case scenario, how it crashed. The black box is top secret and can only be opened when deemed necessary.

Each of us has our own black box in our heads, kept locked away and containing the secrets and desires that the majority of the public does not want to hear or see- that is unless there is someone who is willing to open it up and accept our dark sides. 🙂

But the black box does not necessarily have to be full of secrets that can destroy one person. It can also serve as something to share with others where all can learn from it and the person who has the secret can benefit from it; especially when it comes to learning a foreign language or other subjects.

Most recently, I developed a Black Box exercise which can be utilized wherever needed, pending on which subject you are teaching which topic you wish to discuss. Good for all ages and regardless of whether it’s for 1-1 training or a classroom setting, it is a two-part exercise that requires work on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts, but in the end, will bear fruit as far as discussion and learning is concerned. What you need for materials are the following:

For each student and the teacher, you need one sheet of black paper and another sheet of a colored paper of choice.

Use the black sheet of paper, fold it along horizontal lines in half and afterwards, fold the halves into half again, thus having a sheet folded into quarters, as seen in the picture below.

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The next step is to fold the horizontal portion of the sheet into two halves then again into quarters, thus creating a origami with eight rectangular shapes. Please ensure that the sheet is closed in half horizontally, as seen in the pictures below.

Fold the vertical portion in half....
Fold the vertical portion in half….
....and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
….and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
Closed-book format like this....
Closed-book format like this….

The next step many people may fall for (and I have many times myself). Here you need to fold the outer corners of the folded sheet of paper. What is meant by outer corner is the folded sheet and not the single sheet, as some people have done. Please see the pics below to see how the corners should be folded. Normally, the corners folded should have a 45° angle touching the folded crease in each corner with a tab sticking out down the middle on both sides.

This is not the way to fold it!
This is not the way to fold it!
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.

Fold these tabs outwards so that they cover the outer corners. Then place your fingers in the opening and sandwich the long ends, so that in the end, a half a box is revealed. It should look like this in the end…..

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Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards....
Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards….
Top portion of the box finished! :-) Now the bottom portion needs to be done.....
Top portion of the box finished! 🙂 Now the bottom portion needs to be done…..

Repeat the steps with the other half of the box and you have yourself the finished product, as seen below:

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Once you have completed your black box, you can do many activities with them, where students can cut into pieces and place various colors of paper into the box, pending on what topic you are talking about in class. These multi-colored cards are then picked out by random, either by the teacher walking by and picking one from each student’s black box or by asking them to submit a card of a certain color into the teacher’s own black box and then, the teacher chooses one. Black boxes are very useful for foreign language teaching as they serve the following purposes:

1. They can be used to break the ice and start a conversation in class,

2. They can be used for introducing new vocabulary and cultural themes a student or teacher picked up while encountering media or visiting an event and a wants to share,

and 3. They can be used for conversational purposes based on a topic previously discussed in class. This is especially useful when teaching a subject in a non-native language, such as bilingual history, social studies, religion, and music in either English, French, Spanish, Russian or other languages.

In one case, students can ask the teacher a question about a topic of interest. This is especially useful if the teacher is a native speaker of a language being taught in the classroom. In other words, Ask the Ami a question about American Culture. 😉

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I have tried (and am still trying) to introduce this in the general English where one colored card has a question pertaining to the topics learned in the workbook, another for questions on vocabulary, another for questions for discussion, and the last one for questions for the American. However, this can be done with other subjects and topics, yet one has to be aware of the audience and their knowledge of both the topic and the language.

Another concern is that some students (especially in a large classroom setting) may find a creative way of ruining such an activity by posing questions and providing vocabulary words that are inappropriate, personally attacking other students or even the teacher with a question or comment, or playing Devil’s Advocate on a topic deemed controversial and not suitable for the classroom. Here the teacher will need to set guidelines for such an activity to avoid any conflicts in the classroom that might have a negative impact on the teaching environment or even the teacher’s career. While the Black Box is suitable for all ages, students need to be aware of the questions and vocabulary words they are asking which may be difficult for them to understand if they are either too young or the language level is too low. That means an A-level student should not be asking philosophical questions about Socrates if his/her level is suitable for small talk and telephone conversations.

Nevertheless, the Black Box function similarily like the device on the airplane: it brings out the most thought-provoking questions to the students in class, who will benefit from learning from the “secrets” kept locked away until now, while thinking about and utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom in a positive manner. A wiser man once said to the author: Never judge a person by his looks or actions, but by his inner thoughts and backgrounds. It applies to not only future partners in relationships but also people you encounter along the way. After all, the most interesting aspects come from the most unusual people. 🙂

Enjoy the exercise and one confession: Yellow is my color because my devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, in case you are wondering. It is also the favorite color of my daughter’s whose homemade box idea inspired this activity. 🙂 ❤

five years flfi

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